More than a battle - the 102nd Army/Navy Game

2 Dec 2001 |

Both U.S. Naval Academy seniors Jeff Gaddy and Ryan Hamilton said before Saturday's 102nd Army/Navy football game that they had visions of what the perfect outcome would be.Gaddy, the Midshipmen's leading receiver this year, said he hoped he had so many catches and at least one touchdown that he'd be able to play his final collegiate half on the bench; enjoying it and "riding the pine" because of a big lead.Hamilton, Navy's left linebacker and defensive signal-caller, said he hoped it came down to some last-second heroics in which he'd make an interception and go the distance for a touchdown.In reality, the two Marine Corps' future officers saw the game a little different, and so did the more than 69,000 fans including President Bush at Veterans Stadium here.Hamilton's defense saw three big plays that made the difference in the 26-17 Black Knight win and Midshipmen loss. Cadet Ardell Daniel, whose speed Hamilton said he underestimated, ran 60-yards on the game's sixth play. Five-minutes later Cadet Brian Bruenton scampered 42-yards for another score after what at first appeared a Navy interception. And then there was the second half.Army's third and final touchdown took only 10 seconds off the clock. Cadet Omari Thompson ran 95-yards on the half's opening kick-off. According to Gaddy, who wants to transfer his speed on the field to speed in the air as an F-18 pilot, this play broke Navy's chances of making a comeback."We were only down 16-3 at the end of the second," he said after the game. "At the time I was thinking a touchdown and we're right back in this one; but when Thompson broke away, everyone's heads seemed to dropped."Former Marine and Naval Academy Head Coach Rick Lantz agreed that his defense gave up some big plays, but he was counting on that. He said he expected his offense to convert and get in the end zone."My defense has been questioned all year," he said following the game. "They didn't play that bad. They made a couple of interceptions that actually kept us in the game longer than we probably should have been. I planned this game with our offense scoring touchdowns and that didn't happen."The only Navy touchdown came on a 4-yard pass from sophomore Craig Candeto to Steve Mercer with 23 seconds left. The Midshipmen connected again on the 2-point conversion to make it 26-17.The Midshipmen finished the year 0-10. IN THE STANDSThe stand's almost 70,000 people included nearly 8,000 Midshipmen and Cadets. Armed with noise gadgets, "cannon-cockers" and uniforms in tow, the military academies controlled the atmosphere. From their jumbo-tron "big screen" commercials that poked fun at each academy, to shouts back and forth in the stands, many felt the fans were sometimes bigger than the game."There's nothing that can compare to seeing these young men and women in their uniforms, and their sense of pride in the country," said Philadelphia's George Rubensteer, a former Navy chief and World War II veteran. Rubensteer, 82, who said he's seen more games than he can remember, also said that this year's game was special because of the country being at war."Whenever the country's in a conflict, this game seems to have special meaning. "More people watch it, the boys play harder and stands shake a little more."THE PRESIDENT & MORE "My mind is on the game today, but my mind is elsewhere, too," President Bush told Navy football players before the game. "My mind is with the men and women who wear our uniform as we wage a noble cause. Know that our cause is just because it is right. Make no mistake about it-we will prevail."Surrounded by what many have said to be the tightest security measures in sporting history, Bush participated in the traditional coin-toss and watched from the comforts of the visiting Midshipmen side during the first half. At the beginning of the second he switched sides and joined Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on the Army sidelines.Also in attendance were Bush's Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Home Security Director and former Marine Tom Ridge and the Secretary of the Navy Gordon England.-30-